Freezing & Storing Embryos

Two of the main fertility treatments used in the UK, ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) and IVF (in vitro fertilisation) rely on using specific drugs to stimulate the production of more eggs than would normally be generated. These eggs are taken and used by these respective techniques to be fertilised by either a partner’s or a donor’s sperm, forming embryos. An embryo is a child’s earliest developmental stage, little more than a ball of cells rapidly dividing but with no organs or the like. Normally multiple embryos are generated and used until a successful pregnancy, and more often than not spare embryos are left over after the procedure. These can be frozen and used for a number of different reasons.

Why would I freeze and store my embryos?

Freezing surplus embryos can be a good idea for many couples as it means you can use these for future fertility treatments without the need to stimulate and collect more eggs. This is probably the main reason for storage and freezing, as the rate of pregnancies through IVF and ICSI is higher than the rate of live births, and it also gives some couples the option to have more children. Others might freeze and store their embryos for donation purposes, providing their embryos for research into fertility and similar areas or for the benefit of other women struggling to get pregnant.

Do I get to choose what happens to my embryos?

If you do decide to go ahead and freeze your embryos, your clinic will provide you with a consent form that allow you to put into writing what exactly you would have done with your embryos and how long you would have them stored for (standard practice is 10 years). The form also describes what will be done with your embryos if for whatever reason you or your partner could no longer make the decision. Any further conditions you may want to prescribe to the usage of your embryos can be added on at this stage. Your embryos are exactly that, yours, and are to be used at your discretion and with your permission.

Can I change my mind about what will be done with my embryos?

Up to the point where your embryos are being used for treatment or research, you can withdraw your consent for their usage. Once consent is withdrawn you will typically have a year to decide what it is you want done with your frozen and stored embryos. If you don’t plan on using your embryos for a further fertility treatment cycle, then you always have the option of donation.

Does using a frozen embryo affect my chances of getting pregnant?

A fresh embryo will always have a slightly higher chance of implanting and going to full term than a frozen equivalent, and this is because of the process of freezing and thawing an embryo. Your chances are further affected by how long your embryo has been frozen for.

Are there any risks involved in freezing and storing my embryos?

The major risk involved in the freezing and storage process is that some embryos, and even potentially all of them, might not survive the process. At present this seems to be the major disadvantage of the procedure, and there is no evidence to support a potential danger to either you or your baby to be through the freezing and storing of an embryo. That being said long term data is only starting to come through about the use of these techniques.

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